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Monday, March 23, 1998 Published at 16:50 GMT

Special Report

Trauma of Somalia debacle lives on
image: [ `America out': Somalis protest against the presence of US marines ]
`America out': Somalis protest against the presence of US marines

America's decision to despatch peace-keeping marines to Somalia stands as a sorry episode in the superpower's troubled relationship with Africa.

The mission may have been forged with the finest of humanitarian intentions, but it ended in death and disaster. By the time the United States pulled out, its body count ran into double figures.

The world's most powerful military machine had been humiliated by the rag-tag militias that fought a civil war in the Horn of Africa state.

[ image: A Somali points his gun at what he says are clothes torn from a dead marine]
A Somali points his gun at what he says are clothes torn from a dead marine
One battle ended in the horrifying spectacle of American corpses being dragged through the streets of the capital, Mogadishu.

According to Mark Bowden, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer writing a book on the raid, more than 1,000 Somalis were killed as panicked US troops shot their way out.

He also alleges they killed women and children, took hostages as they fled, and used corpses as shields.

Washington was badly burned by the experience and when calls came for an international force to stop Rwanda's even more bloody civil war in 1994, the US kept its distance.

The decision to get involved in Somalia was initially touted as an exhibition of America's commitment to the New World Order.

The Cold War was over and it was no longer necessary for superpowers to prop up corrupt African regimes in order to keep a tactical presence in the region.

Somalia had descended into civil war in 1991 after its ruling president, Siad Barre, was deposed. As rival clans fought for supremacy the country descended into anarchy and thousands of civilians died through warfare, famine and disease.

[ image: A US gunship hovers over Mogadishu]
A US gunship hovers over Mogadishu
It started well for America, with 1,800 US marines landing at night on a Mogadishu beach in December 1992. Instead of hostile gunfire, they were met only by a crowd of journalists and cameramen.

By the new year the troops, who led a United Nations peacekeeping force, had seized large numbers of weapons as they tried to neutralise Somalia's warlords.

But America's ambitions grew and when a formal warrant was issued for the arrest of the Somali clan leader, General Mohamed Aideed, US marines were dragged into a series of gun battles with Somali troops.

Hundreds of Somalis died, as well as American troops and Nigerian, Pakistani and Italian soldiers acting for the UN.

The mission was judged a failure and the UN backed-down, withdrawing all its troops by early 1995.

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